Composing in My Head

image41I have been thinking lately about how I have evolved as a composer. My own story of how I started to write music is definitely not as accomplished or impressive as many of the great composers out there who have spent their entire lives emerged in the art.

Instead, I’ve spent most of my life as a performer, until about 5 years ago when I stumbled across the desire to compose. I then was able to unlock this ability within myself that I had never known was even there.

While for many years I absolutely enjoyed the thrill of performing and the feeling of accomplishment it gave me, I have never known the excitement that I feel when I have creation stirring inside of me than I do when I am composing music. To know that I am about to create something that no one else has ever heard or seen, and that there are no rules involved – it is my own creation and I am the master of it – is really an incredible realization.

While I have only been composing for these past 5 years, I have noticed my own short story of evolution in the process…

When I first started embarking on the journey of discovering my own voice as a composer, I would spend a lot of time at the piano improvising my songs. These songs usually only came about by way of “fiddling around” at the keys and seeing what worked and what did not. When I stumbled upon something that had a sense of finality, I would write it down on manuscript paper.
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I started out with one keyboard, an audio cable, and a computer.

Over the past few years, my studio has grown as well as my methods and ideas as a music creator. The best part however, is that I’ve been able to tune into, what I feel, is the most effective and efficient way for me to compose music: Using my head.

It doesn’t involve a piano, or sheet music, or a computer even. It takes a quiet atmosphere, some solitude, and time when I know I can just…be.

Lately, the best place for this has been in the evenings when I am putting my little one down to sleep for the night. We go into his nursury, turn the lights out, and I rock him to sleep. The process usually starts out with several rounds of me singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to him, but eventually when those little eyes close and I feel that he has drifted off…I will just sit there and keep rocking him while my mind drifts off into the world of musical creation.

I can actually hear the sound of the piano in my mind, as I rehearse my latest creation. I will start the song from the beginning and play it in my head to review it, noticing any parts where I feel may need changes. I can back it up, play a section again, tweak notes and rehearse it some more. I will also start adding orchestration to it, beats, and other effects.

I find that composing in my head is much more useful and effective than composing at my piano, simply because in my head I hear the end product. I also sometimes feel as though I’m listening to my music from a more objective point of view than when I am playing it at the piano.

The only hard part of this process, is when I do sit down to record, is how I can successfully translate what I heard in my head into actual audible sounds. It takes a lot of do-overs and patience to get it just right.

For example, my most recent composition project has been my own rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. I have been working on this song quite a lot over the past month, and am currently working on the 7th draft.

The other night, as I was sitting in the rocking chair rocking Preston to sleep and composing in my head, I rehearsed a section of the song where I had written a grandioso chord, then arpeggiated run in triplets from the top of the keyboard down to nearly the bottom. It occured to me that while the fanfare of this “cadenza” fulfilled my own desire to let everyone and their dog know of my skills (lol), it did not fit the song. So I stopped, backed it up, and tried it without the run and instead added some sonic space, wherein the next measure came back in with grandure, not in skill, but because of the layers and the suspense that was added with the spacing. However within that short measure of space, I heard effects of reverb in a rhythmic broken pattern.

Now how in the heck does one translate that into actual music that others can hear? Well, step by step.

The first thing I did, was lay Preston in his crib. The second thing I did was get up and go to my studio and re-record that section so that it was not forgotten. What it lead to, was 3 more hours of spontanious creation wherein I was able to finish, what I like to call the “bone structure” of the song. In other words, the piano score.

Tonight, I’ll head-compose out some of the orchestration.

I’m finding this method to be much more condusive to my true inner voice as an artist. I am requiring my equipment and sounds to create what is inside of me, instead of me trying to get my compositions to work with what sounds I have. I also find that it is a more natural way of composing, because in the end, the music comes out sounding like it was meant to sound like and not be bound by finger improvisations on the piano.

I am also of the impression that our minds have such capacity for greatness, that if you rehearse your art or skill in your head you will only fulfill it in the flesh.

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7 responses to “Composing in My Head

  1. My goodness…I LOVE it when you share like this! I feel as though I’m beginning to see into your soul, and it’s beautiful. Your creativity is endless, and you have the audience to genuinely appreciate the results. Thanks for sharing, not just with other artists, but others who may not create, but who DO appreciate!

  2. This is really cool, Jenni. I’ve only ever composed two or three pieces in my life, and a couple of variations on hymns, and this is such a neat glimpse into how really good music actually happens. :o) Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

    And now, a question: what’s your favorite way to get the notes onto paper? And into a professional-looking score?

  3. Annalea – I use the Finale software, but that is a 2nd step. First step is writing it out by hand onto manuscript paper. But Finale allows you to play it into the computer too. I don’t prefer to do it that way though because it sometimes doesn’t translate correctly and I have to go back and fix it anyway.

  4. This is extremely interesting and I really enjoyed reading it! One thing I have worked on a lot as a singer is the power of the mind and envisioning things and hearing things. It’s amazing what the mind could do.

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